Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pics from a Trip

The ruins of the Vijayanagara empire, which reached its zenith under Krishnadeva Raya, were our last stop on our trip back from Goa. Here are some of the pictures from Hampi, once its capital.

The Krishna Bazaar in Hampi, across the Krishna Temple.

The Krishna Temple, full of carvings. A fairly large complex, the main deity is now housed in the Connemara Museum, Chennai.

There are several mandapams (platforms) like this all over Hampi.

The beautifully symmetrical Stepped Bath.

A view of the landscape, so typical of the Deccan area. Notice the monolithic Nandi just to the left of centre.

The famous musical pillars, not open to prodding and tapping anymore!

The monolithic Lakshmi Narasimha, though Lakshmi is missing.

The Virupaksha temple, this gopuram (tower) commissioned by Krishnadeva Raya

Now come the photos from Goa

The Shantadurga temple, Kavlem

Twilight over the Mandovi River, Panaji

Vanilla in a plantation, Ponda

The view from a hillock - in the far distance is the majestic tower of St Augustine's Church, now in ruins

The Safa Shahouri Masjid, near Ponda

The Haravale waterfall, near Arvalem rock-cut caves

Cloves, in the plantation

The Church of the Mount of Our Lady, so typical of the white churches that dot the landscape.

View from Cabo de Rama, a fort enveloped by the sea.

A cashew tree in bloom, and a fruit that's beginning to develop.

A couple of pics from places en route to Goa

The decorated ceiling of the Mahamaya Temple, Ankola, Karnataka

A monilithic Nandi from the Aghoreswara Temple, Ikkeri, Karnataka.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hot off the ... blog

All this is stuff that has been published over the past two years. This particular article may be of special interest to food bloggers.

To an unacquainted foodie, they are a delicious discovery. Just a click, and any number of virtual kitchens waltz onto your screen in the form of food blogs set up by the gourmets and gourmands of the world.

They seem to have a voracious appetite for food and more — memories of Mom's scrumptious food, the generations-old coffee filter, the champagne flutes at a friend's wedding, the whys and hows of a sinking cake or a collapsing soufflé, that rare vegetable at the store, kitchen gardens and potted herbs (with pets, crafts and other hobbies straying in), links to various sources that mention food, news and views on food, and sometimes non-food issues small and big.

Food blogs have been around for a few years but seem to have become popular in 2005. Most bloggers one spoke to had started in the past year. Says Visakhapatnam-based Sailaja of, who moved from a blog to her own Web site this year: "Initially I wanted to start a Web site on Andhra cuisine, home remedies and Ayurvedic cooking, as I couldn't find good sites on them." She realised that blogs, though more restrictive in form and features, would help her test the waters — discover what readers want, and also give her time to improve on the skills needed for a good Web site, be it technical, writing, photography or marketing. "A recipe with images and interactivity is far superior to just putting up a database of recipes," says Sailaja, a mother of one, who is on a long break from work.

Culinary chronicles

For most, food blogs are a serendipitous find. New York-based Paz, of the blog `The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz', thought hers would be the first food blog ever when she started last August, but "discovered there were thousands!" More a person who enjoyed eating out, she suddenly developed an interest in cooking and decided that a blog to document her successes and failures would be good. A research scholar in molecular biology, Nupur of `One Hot Stove' stumbled on to food blogs when she was trawling the Net for recipes and food writing. Bhaswati Ghosh, a Delhi-based writer whose book Making Out in America is due to be published later this year, runs a blog called (Lima) `Beans and Delhi Cha(a)t'. It's unusual in that it's a joint venture with a friend in Peru, Cesar, whom she met in an online writing community. "It was a spur-of-the-moment, whimsical decision, mainly for the two of us to get our writing juices flowing," she says, describing the blog as a "random chronicle of our adventures and exploits in the kitchen."

Life's undergone quite an exciting transformation for these bloggers. Blogging about food seems to gloriously sate an instinctive hunger for friendship and appreciation. Says California-based homemaker Vineela Krishna of Vineela's Cuisine, "It gives me some identity. I can share my recipes with the world and I'm learning a lot."

Mae, based in Jersey, Channel Islands (the UK), signed up for a blog without really knowing or researching them. "It was really strange when I had my first couple of comments. I thought the only people that can see my blog were friends that I gave out the address to! I was shocked and at the same time flattered that others were interested. This was when I started to get hooked." Now she has her own Web site called Riceandnoodles.

For many, as seen in the Indian food blog community, it's remembrances of things past, and pride in one's culture as well. Says Sailaja, "There are some moments when you feel so good to hear that a recipe or image has brought back memories of home and how nostalgic they felt, especially from Indians living abroad."

For Nupur, her greatest blog moment was when an American woman who had adopted a child from Maharashtra mailed to say Nupur's Marathi recipes were helping her to take her daughter closer to her roots.

Bonding over blogging

An interesting facet to Indian food blogs is the `H4 syndrome,' according to an Indian food blogger. Is this a way for immigrants to the US on `dependant'-status visas to keep themselves occupied, as they cannot work or study fulltime? "If so, then that is something very positive. Because even if the women are physically alone at home, they are connecting with one another through very strong bonding agents — culture and food," she says.

S. Indira, who now lives in the US, says, "Food blogging has made me more aware of how good and healthy our traditional Indian food really is." Her blog was nominated last year for food blog awards and she decided she would strike out on her own when she found there was very little pictorial information of Indian ingredients.

Another activity among bloggers is participation in `events' and `memes.' A blogger hosts an `event' that focuses on a particular theme and publishes the entries received on her blog. It's not a contest (though one can rate the entries) and results in a multitude of recipes, traditional and new-fangled, that at the very least are feast for the eyes. They could range from ingredients to courses (entrees, desserts) to meals (breakfast, snacks and so on). In May, for instance, mangoes were the flavour of the month on `Mahanandi' while lentils of all shapes and sizes dotted `Sailusfood' in June.

Memes are little exercises in which bloggers get to know each other a little better — some popular memes were `Ten things I miss of Mom's cooking' and `Confessions in groups of five' where participants disclosed five popular items that housed themselves in their freezers, closets, cars and purses.

How much does it cost to have a blog? Not much. Most blogs are free, so it's just the cost of the food and maybe the digital camera most of them seem to prefer. If it's a Web site, the domain costs and server costs have to be paid.

According to Sailaja, one has to pay Rs 400-600 to own a domain name. A decent and reliable host for the site could cost anything between Rs 2,000 and Rs 5,000 per year. A good Web site designer too would cost that much. Mae, for whom her Web site is a happy combination of her twin passions — photography and food — says, "My playground now costs me just under {euro}80-90 a year." Vineela spends about $45 a month for the Internet connection but would go commercial if she got an opportunity. Indira's `Mahanandi' is currently commercial-free but if she finds anything appropriate, would like to add advertisements on the site, mainly to cover the domain costs.

More than a hobby

For many bloggers, their hobby boils over into a magnificent obsession. So much so that it takes a lot of discipline to tear oneself away from it. Says Paz, who is a legal writer-editor, "I spend too much time on my blog. When I first started, I used to blog almost every day; now, I blog at least twice a week." Says Sailaja, who initially spent 6-8 hours a day, "It takes a lot of patience and dedication. Now I spend three hours a day minimum when I post a recipe and the day I don't, I probably spend about an hour or two visiting other food blogs and leaving comments." Vineela spends up to six hours blogging and even wants to create online cookery videos in the future and is willing to invest in cookery classes to become an expert.

Given the mounting interest in food the world over and the ease that technology permits, there are heaps and loads of food blogs. For every taste and need, be it low-carb, gluten-free, kosher, vegan, cheap gourmet, organic, what have you. English-as-a-foreign-language is no deterrent! They are not all just recipes and pictures but records of adventures in the kitchen, critiques of restaurants, chefs and of food critics themselves! There are Web sites to teach you food photography for your blog, a site that keeps watch of all the food blogs by the hour, a forum to share knowledge about technical issues. And there are some bloggers who have quit regular jobs to indulge in this full time and even bagged book deals! Statistics are not easily available but a very rough estimation, going by a Web site that watches these blogs, puts it at 1,000. And these are only the English ones, mostly.

Copyright and ethical issues do cause some heartburn but most often, it's the sheer fun of indulging in all things food, and combining that with whipping up your own creative, culinary-literary enterprise in the vast cosmos of the World Wide Web, that makes it worth it.

Trim Reality

Have you ever noticed how it's mostly the thin ones that populate gyms? And how it's not them but the fat ones that discuss food and diets and exercise endlessly? And if you put that aside, every month a gym class goes to a buffet and wolfs down whatever's on offer, caramel custard and strawberry gateau included? And what is it with these people who say, "Ah! It's so refreshing, don't you think?"

No, I don't think so. I feel sweaty, smelly, my clothes clinging disgustingly to my back, and a bit weak in the knees, but I must be an exception — all around me people are dousing themselves with deo, changing into their going-out clothes and zipping off to lunch with friends. And what's funnier, there are people who shower ahead of a workout as they don't feel fresh otherwise, but no, they don't need to bathe after.

One of the many aerobic classes I attended had a rather annoying practice: every week, one student had to bring dessert for the whole class. That would be mid-week in the fond hope we could exercise off those calories in the next two days. So class over, Woman of the Week would go to her gym bag and bring out a tub of basundi or chocolate mousse, accompanied by plastic cups and spoons. The dessert would be lovingly ladled into each cup and passed around, while the WotW would proudly recount how she made it, not sparing anyone the gruesome details of cups of sugar, number of eggs and ounces of white flour that went into it.

There's no point in fighting temptation in the face of many classmates who egg you on to go ahead, be a sport and eat it, especially when you've been in their place in more ignorant times, when you've hated your meal companions for delicately pecking at their food and saying they were stuffed after only a few grains went down their gullets. And there's more: "C'mon, it's your turn next week! What will you bring," they ask, as bliss and content suffuse their faces, which they no doubt attribute to the refreshing high that exercise is supposed to give, but which, in all probability, comes from the sugar and velvet sliding down their throat and settling in their belly.

It all boils down to making a choice, is what all these advice and self-help books tell you. If only it was so simple. Recently a friend who had visited Egypt plied us with some lovely, light, flaky baklava. The only choice was to eat it, of course. How many times in our life would we get original Egyptian pastry? Soaked in honey, filled with nuts and full of white flour, it was really the devil at his most alluring. Biting into it while trying to locate a Web site that revealed the calorie count for baklava didn't spoil the fun at all.

Sometimes there are signs from God; sometimes there aren't. One such sign came last week. Yours truly chanced upon a recipe for white chocolate mousse and had assembled everything for it. The gelatine was soaked, the eggs separated, but the microwave, which was supposed to melt the chocolate, burnt it so well within 20 seconds that nothing could be salvaged. But guess what the nice thing about it was? Skipping the extra 20 minutes on the treadmill the next day. And treating yourself to a little cheating, after all, you had to pour all that mousse down the drain. Then on the day you do get it right comes an apologetic call from the gym — the flooring is being changed, so no gym for a few days.

Oh, and one more thing ... Isn't exercising all about stretching the limit a bit? Then why are there so many gym mates (and these are not the thin ones, again, let me tell you) who sagely advise you not to push yourself but only do as much as you can? You just have to get the fat going and it will melt, they say, making it sound as easy as an ice cube in the sun. Well, says a disgruntled friend, she walked and walked at her own pace, the treadmill lost weight, she didn't.

But then, variety is the spice of life. Experiment with every weight loss factoid you read or hear; by the time you're through, you've figured out a few tricks. If not, grin and take it in the right spirit — Fate intends you not to squander away what she has been so generous with.

Frozen Images

A humorous piece I wrote a while back:

Ever noticed those luscious pictures of refrigerators in the ads? Door invitingly open, shelves pleasantly loaded with chic and trendy foods... that's all you can do to stop yourself from jumping in and chomping away on the healthy produce in there.

First, there's the mandatory wedge of watermelon, bursting with red and freshness and juice. A bowl of strawberries. A pie/tart/flan with golden yellow filling and a citrus slice coronet, replete with a cherry and sprig of angelica or mint. There are fruits and vegetables in little colour-coordinated mounds resting artistically in a corner. They could be the biggest golden mangoes you've ever seen, a variety of squash (gourds to us Indians), sweet corn peeking through bright green and a bunch of what looks like the fattest, juiciest, roundest grapes. Then there could be a tall, inviting jug full of orange juice or milk; you can feel the Vitamin C and calcium in your bones merely on seeing it. And there are various clear-as-crystal containers speckled with dew that contain healthy things like sprouts and slabs of tofu. Lower down, maybe a selection of cheeses. In the side, smooth brown eggs that look like they've come out of some super-hygienic assembly line.

The vegetable crisper has an array of greens and reds — crisp lettuce, plump leeks, waxy green cabbage, peppers (call them capsicum and you lose the magic) dark green, red and yellow, long and shapely chillies, succulent and immense red tomatoes, miniature radishes, artichokes and other such no-longer-exotic metropolitan vegetables. The side racks have bottles — some branded, with sparkling water from somewhere in Europe, sports drinks, fruit juice cartons — from all of which you can find good health leaping off and accosting you. A variety of sauces and relishes to add zip. There's the model with clear skin and the perfectly white and even teeth to tell you that the refrigerator keeps her in top form. And, of course, these refrigerators are so roomy, there's no need to cram anything — everything fits like a dream. And all this is bathed in a golden glow that's at once soft but bright and raises this home appliance to something in the nature of a celestial being.

Reality check

Now for the reality check. My fridge, and most fridges in homes I know, is not half as appealing. Most are white, so the dirt shows. There's usually a grubby, limp napkin wound around the handle. Quite a few are small, so they seem to whimper under the weight of leftovers. The eggs are often spotted or streaked with dirt. Next to that, a couple of torn and straggly wrappers labour to cover bitten-off chocolate. A half-eaten orange lies fibrously forlorn and last night's home delivery packet, side flaps unattractively askew, languishes with its leftovers of tough and slimy manchurian and cold and hard-as nails fried rice. A plastic box, in an attempt at ingenious space creation, collects other odds and ends — a half-used packet of curry paste, an unsealed packet of cornflour, the remainder of a drying loaf of bread. Fingerprints never looked clearer as they did trying to clear out sticky smears of spilt milk and rossogulla syrup mingling with gravy.

In the bottle racks, there's hardly any water. Which my brother learnt the hard way when glug glug went a bottle of vinegar down his throat on a hot summer's day! The chilli, soya and garlic sauces that kept it company should have warned him, don't you think?

In the compartments above are lipsticks, a set of wet wipes, a crusty, two-year-old packet of seeded dates, some older salad dressings bought abroad that you can't bring yourself to throw away, a zillion sachets of tomato sauce and oregano that came with pizza and other home deliveries, some jam and assorted cartons of coconut milk, tomato puree and face pack.

Where dreams die

The main shelves, and this is where dreams really die, are full of steel dabbas. No elegant platters containing seductive trifles or cheesecake. No artistic arrangement of microwaveable dishes with their sunny yellow lids lighting up the confines. No tall, cool jug of juice. No Asian stir-fry twinkling up colourfully from a spotless porcelain dish covered with cling film taut and clear. No brilliant colours in the crisper, just some listless vegetables curling up and dying. No freezer stocked to the full. Just some ice-trays and gaping white space into which a visiting cousin sticks his head to escape the heat. No who's who of the food processing industry.

Mostly it's an assortment of square, round and squat steel containers, solidly reinforcing the ordinary, middle-class reality of your life. None of that `aspirational' (to borrow a marketing term) quality the ads and lovely brochures have about them — it's three rows of detritus that blow to smithereens every lifestyle fantasy you harboured. But don't quit.

So what if you accumulate prettier things — both food and containers, more puddings and pounds — in the quest for the perfect refrigerator interiors? It is, in truth, a pursuit of a higher ideal — a healthier, happier, calmer, all balanced, unflappable, wholesome new you. After all, as you've always been told, it's the effort that counts, isn't it?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

another from the holiday

Don't you wish you could have been here?

holiday in a hill station

Mists and peaks, my friend's shot

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More fleurs

More from the garden at home, pix aren't mine, though!

Friday, August 11, 2006


Not my words of art, for a change! These are my dad's pix. Actually did this for blogging practice, but it became a pleasant chore with these lovely images.